This week. The Senate is in; the House is out until May 10. We are sending an abbreviated First Branch Forecast because we are tired. Don’t worry, we’ll have the highlights from the gazillion hearings this past week, including 3 Leg Branch, 2 CJS, and House Judiciary and ModCom hearings.
TREATING STAFF LIKE PEOPLE
No one noticed, but the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights published a notice of proposed rulemaking on updating outdated overtime regulations for the Legislative branch. This is a BFD if you think that staff who work more than 40 hours a week should receive overtime pay. And we do. OCWR said this rulemaking would “modify this substantially lower salary test set by the 1996 FLSA Substantive Regulations that are financially outdated and yet remain in effect.” How out of date? The current requirements make staff eligible for overtime only if they earn under $13,000 per year, way below poverty level. If you think it should be higher, public comments are due by May 26 to [email protected].
Compensating Leg branch staff on par with Exec branch staff remains a priority for Demand Progress and other civil society organizations, Chris Cioffi noted in Roll Call last week. The House should implement the House IG’s 2021 recommendations to ensure pay parity and provide an annual cost-of-living adjustment for Leg branch employees.
Prepare to fast forward. Speaker Pelsoi said last week that a resolution allowing congressional staffers to unionize “will come up soon.” In the words of Dark Helmet, “when will then be now?” It’s been 88 days since Speaker Pelosi offered full support for Congressional staff to unionize (on Feb. 3rd) and 61 days since the House Admin Committee held a hearing on unionization (on March 2nd.) Politico’s Ruby Cramer had a great profile of the (still anonymous) man behind the @dear_white_staffers Instagram account.
Working arrangements. The Speaker of the UK House of Commons called for a review of whether MPs should be the employers of their staff, or whether it should be someone else, as long as the MP gets to choose the staff. Why? “This would mean that all new staff would be employed on standard terms and conditions. In addition, if a staff member wanted to report a serious breach of employment practice against an MP, they would not have to go to that same MP to make that report…. For MPs, they would not have to add the responsibilities of being a small employer to an already important and demanding job – and would have formal support in managing their staff.” Given what is slowly happening in the House (and less so in the Senate), this is a model we should consider as well.
Improving staff benefits. Majority Leader Hoyer and Caucus Chair Jeffries urged appropriators to improve benefits policies for Congressional staff. Specifically: office budgets should receive “the same 4.6% cost-of-living adjustment in Calendar Year 2023 that President Biden has proposed for all federal civilian employees and uniformed personnel.” Additionally, they called for statutory linkage of the House’s maximum salary cap to SES level II. They also called for benefits ranging from child care subsidies to first-time homebuyer’s assistance to reimbursements for fertility treatments.
Justice Department transparency. Rep. Cartwright led a bevy of members in reintroducing legislation to provide transparency for opinions issued by DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel, the Sunlight Act of 2022 (H.R. 7619). Companion legislation was previously reintroduced by Sens. Duckworth and Leahy, the DOJ OLC Transparency Act (S. 3858). A coalition of organizations have endorsed the legislation. This testimony explains why OLC transparency is essential to a strong democracy.
Judicial accountability. Last week the House passed the Courthouse Ethics and Transparency Act, a judicial STOCK Act + financial disclosure transparency bill that previously passed the Senate, and you know what that means. House Judiciary also held a hearing on Supreme Court ethics and recusals, and if a bill on that could move along with PACER reform legislation, well, that’d be nifty. Senate Judiciary has a hearing this Tuesday on judicial ethics and transparency.
Executive branch transparency. The Senate should pass the Periodically Listing Updates to Management Act (PLUM Act, S.3650), a coalition of 27 organizations and individuals coordinated by Demand Progress wrote in a letter to Senate leadership last week.
Senate disbursements report. The Senate’s disbursements report for April 1, 2021 to September 30, 2021 is (finally) out; it looks like the most recent report — from the October 2021 to April 2022 reporting period — is still outstanding. In addition to general transparency issues, the delinquent reports preclude a review of Senate staff pay.
Overview. Last week was a busy one, with Leg branch approps hearings for the AOC, Library of Congress, and GPO; and AG Garland’s testimony before CJS in both chambers (Senate Tuesday, House Thursday). Also last week, top House and Senate appropriators kicked off FY 2023 approps negotiations Thursday at the first four corners meeting of the season.
Testimony deadlines. We’ve updated our handy-dandy super-nifty approps testimony tracker. It has deadlines for the public to submit written testimony, deadlines for when the members need to request to testify at member day hearings, and deadlines for members to submit their approps requests. (If history holds, some subcommittees will fail to publish their notices or will botch the publication, so it’s always good to reach out.) Heads up: H. Leg Branch and CJS have a May 9th deadline for Members to request to testify in person and public witness testimony is due on the 18th and 13th, respectively.
Not appropriations. The House Armed Services Committee will reportedly take up the NDAA on June 22, per BGov.
Groups thank retiring Archivist Ferriero for his service. On Friday, AOTUS David Ferriero’s last day in office, Demand Progress and a coalition of civil society organizations thanked him for twelve years of service.
Earl Devaney. Longtime government transparency advocate Earl Devaney passed away last month. The former Interior Department IG and Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board is remembered in a New York Times obit for his effective leadership and his canny use of political theater to promote a culture of accountability. We had the opportunity to work with him on the formulation of the DATA Act; he will be missed, and not just by us: Pres. Biden mentioned Devaney in a speech this week on the importance of IGs.
New House IG. Deputy House IG Joseph Picolla will serve as the new House IG, Speaker Pelosi announced last week. This transitional moment would be an excellent time to make House IG reports transparent again. KTM recalls the House IG of yore in Politico’s Huddle newsletter: pre-2006, “[House] IG reports were juicy evaluations of how the House operates and holds legislative branch agencies and House offices accountable.” As our research shows, the IG was created after the House banking scandal in the early 90s and routinely published its reports online until 2007, nearly all reports were taken down (on whose orders?) in 2009. This is the opposite of how an IG should operate. (See DP’s recs for strengthening Leg branch IGs.)
AEI’s symposium on Science & Technology Advice for Congress is today, May 2, 2 – 6 PM.
Transparency and Accountability for 21st Century Courts is the subject of a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee scheduled for this Tuesday, May 3 at 10 AM.
AAPI roundtable. The House Office of Diversity and Inclusion will observe Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month with a roundtable discussion about the AAPI voice in politics on May 4 at 12 PM.
Legislative tech throughout the Americas is the subject of an upcoming Bússola Tech conference on May 5 and 6. Stay tuned for registration info.